Fri, Mar 18, 2016 • Westchester Airport
The letter below is from our local County Legislator David Gelfarb, regarding the proposal to modify the Terminal Use Agreement at the Airport.
PEPA is working with Legislator Gelfarb who is serving in his second term on the Westchester County Board of Legislators representing District 6; Harrison, Rye Brook and Port Chester. David has committed to us that he will be very diligent in following this proposal and in raising the concerns he also has expressed regarding the legislation.
This letter was sent to his mailing list on Tuesday, and he has asked us to share it with our members.
FROM THE OFFICE OF LEGISLATOR GELFARB
March 15, 2016
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Lately there has been concern in the community about potential changes at the Airport. I write to bring you up to date and to assure you that I am doing everything possible to protect the interests of my constituents.
Currently, there is legislation pending before the Westchester County Board of Legislators to modify the Terminal Use Agreement ("TUA") that governs operations at the Westchester County Airport. The TUA, which dates back to 1985, provides that for commercial airline flights of over 9 passengers, no more than 240 passengers may depart and no more than 240 passengers may arrive per half hour period. The proposed change would change the half-hour limit to a per day limit. Thus, 11,520 passengers could arrive and 11,520 passengers could depart per day. This would have the effect of potentially increasing Airport use because the allotment for early morning hours, when there are no scheduled flights, could be transferred to daytime hours.
This proposed legislation was initially reviewed by the Legislation and Infrastructure Committees of the Westchester County Board of Legislators on November 9,2015. At that meeting, I spoke at length and argued vociferously that any change which will increase the number of passengers and flights cannot be undertaken without a thorough review of the environmental considerations and quality of life issues for residents of the surrounding communities. These include possible impact on noise, traffic, storm water, and as well as an increase in runoff of de-icing fluid into the Blind Brook. No other persons testified at this meeting. A video of the meeting can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/158951993. Following the meeting, no further action was taken on the proposed law in the 2014-2015 term. In other words, the legislation died.
Following this legislative meeting, I spoke on this issue at several Airport Advisory Board meetings, and have met with local environmental organizations and officials from Rye Brook, Port Chester and Harrison to ensure that their concerns are heard. The proposed legislation was sent back to the Legislature again this year. On February 29th, there was a joint meeting of the Legislation, Infrastructure and Environment & Health Committees. At that meeting, I raised, at length, several concerns:
First, whether any change to the TUA could impact the County's ability to maintain its restrictions in light of the 1990 federal Airport Noise and Control Act ("ANCA"), which greatly limited the amount of restrictions that communities can place on airports, as well as under FAA regulations. In other words, I am greatly concerned that any change might invalidate our ability to maintain restrictions on Airport operations. I have suggested that we obtain, and I have obtained, an opinion from the County's specialized FAA legal counsel in Washington, D.C. That opinion makes clear that under federal law and regulations, the County has a lot of work to do in creating a "record" to justify making any changes to the TUA. In fact, I have urged and will continue to push for having the FAA itself set forth whether the proposed change to the TUA would invalidate the entire TUA. The video of this meeting is available at https://vimeo.com/158946698.
Second, the environmental impact of the proposed change must be thoroughly investigated under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA") before any change can be made. For now, the Board of Legislators has only received a "short-form" Environmental Assessment Form. This is plainly inadequate, especially given that the Airport is in a County-designated "Critical Environmental Area." By comparison, at the February 29th meeting, I compared the short environmental assessment form that the Legislators received with a "Full" Environmental Assessment Form that legislators have received in connection with a proposed lease transaction at the Airport. I would expect the amount of information provided for a new lease would be analogous to a change in the passenger restrictions. This was not the case.
The long form for the lease provides an overview of possible impacts on surface water, flooding, groundwater, air, noise, and transportation. Despite the airport being designated a critical environmental area, no meaningful information was provided regarding any of these issues with the proposed legislation. The County must exercise due diligence and study the possible impact on all of these issues. Moreover, since the Airport is in a substantially residential area, the County needs to address possible impact on land use patterns, zoning, and consistency with community character. Also, in addition to completing the Long Form, the County must address the need for studies of the impact on groundwater, noise, air pollution, etc. as well as steps to mitigate these impacts. These are responsible steps to take under SEQRA.
I am pleased to report that I recently received a call from an officer of the Sierra Club thanking me for my impassioned discussion of the environmental issues at the February 29th meeting. I can also report that the County will be preparing a much more detailed environmental analysis. In short, unless and until environmental experts have, at a minimum, addressed the environmental impacts, and the FAA issues are resolved, the Board cannot even begin to address this legislation.
There will then be further issues to address. The first is simply whether the proposed legislation is advisable at all, even if it passes muster under environmental law and with the FAA. Second, there is also the issue of how this legislation interacts with the master plan for the Airport which is due to be released later this year.
The community should also be aware that the proposed legislation can be modified. As always, I intend to fight to protect my constituents and all County residents to ensure that the Airport remains a viable asset to our community while minimizing the negative impact of its operations on surrounding communities.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me by phone at (914) 995-2834 or by email at email@example.com.